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Lightning, or light bulb? How my vocation came clear to me

10 March 2023

Ordinands tell Huw Spanner about key spiritual moments

Lyanne Beckerson is in the first year of a two-year Common Awards diploma in theology, ministry and mission at St Stephen’s House, Oxford

IN 2015, I was attending mass at the church I was preparing to be married in, when I first felt a call to faith and the Anglo-Catholic tradition. Something came over me. I come from a very secular background, and I suddenly felt that I’d missed out on something particularly beautiful all my life.

Lyanne Beckerson

I started reading the parish magazine, and it hooked me. I felt I was literally being pulled in. It amazed me that everybody had so much to say about the love of God, and it was all centred around the sacraments. I developed a rule of life and started attending mass every Tuesday and Sunday.

The following year, I went on a pilgrimage to Walsingham, where I had another overwhelming experience. During the noon mass, I had a sense that I was being called to be at the altar. My husband’s mother had been a devoted pilgrim to Walsingham, and I felt she was almost there with me and part of that call. I didn’t understand it, but it was something that built up over time.

I spent the next six months keeping my calling quiet, thinking people would not know what to make of it. I began attending morning and evening prayer — discovering the Benedictus prayer and saying the Magnificat in the evening was just astounding to me. I became a deputy warden, I began leading the rosary, getting closer and closer to the altar and to the sacrament itself, to the point where one day — during a quiet moment in church — it was like I heard my name being called. People in the parish would say, “Have you considered the priesthood?”, and to begin with I could never say much, because I was still trying to work out for myself what was happening.

My first BAP, in 2020, rejected me. I had to do something that not only developed how I’m offering myself to God, but how I’m offering myself to others. I gave up my job lecturing at Winchester School of Art, and started volunteering at a soup kitchen in Southend, working with people who were absolutely desperate.

One day, at a hospice in Southend, I was praying with a chap who finally told me: “Before you came in this room, I wanted to die. Now, I want to live.” I knew, in that moment, that I hadn’t imagined the calling I feel in my heart and my soul.


Sam Park is in the third year of a part-time postgraduate diploma in formation for ministry at Sarum College

MY CALLING came out of the blue. I had an established career, and then God decided otherwise. I suddenly had these moments of dissonance, when things just didn’t feel right any more, but I couldn’t understand why.

Sam Park

One day, I was praying while walking my dog, asking, “What’s going on?”, and I clearly heard God say to me: “I’m not going to tell you yet, Sam, because you wouldn’t listen.” Eventually, I heard God say: “Now I’m going to tell you. You’re called to ministry.” I don’t usually get those big neon moments, and, when I almost heard this dialogue internally, I had the sense that something quite profound was happening to me.

There was a long journey after that, but, once I put my trust entirely in God, the dissonance went and his resonance came, and that has stayed through all the challenges. It wasn’t the easiest time for me to go forward for the ministry: I’ve got children, and a husband with a busy job — and then there was Covid. But, everywhere, there has been a sense of God’s provision.

I had to change my job, to be able to find the head space to do the training. I had a dual role as a deputy head teacher and a child psychologist, and it was all-consuming. I said to God: “I need a job that gives me half-terms off, because I can’t afford child care any more. I want to keep doing psychology, because that’s an important skill. And I really love being outside — and I love horses as well.” The next day, a job came up for a psychologist in equine-assisted learning.

All the way through, God has given me just enough. That has been a profound lesson for me, because I had quite a large salary before, and I’ve made myself quite vulnerable. If you put your trust in God, you do get what you need. Not necessarily what you want.

What I have found a blessing at Sarum, is that you’re surrounded by people who bring the whole range of diversity to how they live out their faith, and it’s an environment where that is respected and valued. Because of that, I’ve been able to learn about God from the “other”, and it’s shown me that God is bigger than I thought. It has widened my perspective and enabled me to flourish, and that has been quite powerful.


Liane Chalmers is in the first year of a two-year MA in theology, ministry and mission at Ripon College, Cuddesdon

WHEN I was 13 or so, I used to go to church on my own, and I remember walking through the village one day, on my way to evening prayer, and thinking that this was something special, and something I could see myself being part of. I didn’t go to church for a long time after that, but when, eventually, I got into the discernment process, that moment popped out at me as the start of everything. People who knew me back then have told me: “We could always see it in you, we were just waiting for you to recognise it.”

Liane Chalmers

I’d been through Sunday school, and then I’d gone back to look after the little ones; I’d joined the choir and wanted to be confirmed. Church was something different that no one else in my immediate family did, but it was like a second family, and it gave me a bit of responsibility.

In 2014, my then husband got a job on the Isle of Wight. I was adamant that I wasn’t moving there, and we nearly split up because of it. But when I got there I quickly got involved in my local church. I was on all the rotas, and someone said: “It’s almost as if you were brought here for a reason.” I wanted to be immersed in the church, as a way of life.

Four years later, my husband and I did split up, and I think that that was the catalyst for me starting discernment. We’re still really good friends, and he admits that I would never have done it had we stayed together — and he thinks I should have done it a long time ago. It’s weird to say that the divorce was a crucial part of my spiritual journey, but I think it was, because it gave me the freedom to explore this vocation.

I went through the new discernment process, which assesses you on six different criteria. My highest scores were for wisdom and love of people, and my lowest was for sense of vocation, because I just didn’t have the language at the time to describe it. But I’ve been training since September, and it’s changed completely how I feel, what I’d like to do, where I want to be.

I feel held, I guess. That’s the language I would use. There is a sense of purpose, and, although it’s a time of turmoil, I don’t feel worried by it. I know that I’m on the right track.


Nigel Clent is in the first year of a two-year diploma course in ministry, theology and mission at Trinity College, Bristol

I USED to be a taxi driver who found fault in everything and everyone. Quite by accident (as I thought at the time), I started going to church with my wife, and over time I don’t know where that miserable, cantankerous man went, but he completely disappeared.

I realised that I’d started loving people, rather than hating people. I found myself wanting to talk about Jesus to everyone who got in my taxi. It annoyed quite a few, but it was my taxi, and I thought: “I’ll say what I like.”

Nigel Clent

I thought I would try to become a better evangelist, and so I went to lay ministry college. I fell in love with it, hook, line, and sinker.

One day, my doctor told me (and showed me the X-ray) that I’d got fibrosis in both my lungs, and had three years to live. She said: “There’s no easy way to say this, but there is no treatment or cure for it.” Seven months later, they sent me for an MRI scan, and the consultant told me I had healthier lungs than he had. There was absolutely nothing wrong with me — I hadn’t even got any scarring.

You do have doubts, especially as a fairly new Christian; you keep thinking, “This is too fantastic to be true.” But this business with my lungs just blew away any doubt in my head whatsoever. I realised that I don’t need to fit Jesus into my life, he just needs to be my life. And then I entered the discernment process.

At the BAP, someone asked me: “Why do you want to be ordained?” There’s a line in the Ordinal that had always resonated with me, about “reaching into the forgotten corners of the world, that the love of God may be made visible”, and it was in that moment, in that interview, that I realised that I need to take others with me.

As a taxi driver, I was speaking to people every day, and praying with some of them, and I felt I was doing what God called me to do. But, thinking about that line in the Ordinal, I realised that it’s not just up to me to reach into the forgotten corners; I have to try to get into the hearts and minds of a congregation so that they will want to do that as well.

That was the pivotal moment for me, really. And ten days later I got that ridiculous phone call from the Bishop, saying: “You’re in.”


John Wilson is doing a two-year MA in theology, ministry and mission with the Eastern Region Ministry Course

I’M AMERICAN by birth, but Hungary has been my home for many years. I moved there to study the language, and ended up becoming a missionary. Ten years ago, an Evangelical church asked me to become their pastor. I was afraid that I didn’t have the requisite love, patience, or grace to serve a local congregation; but, in the end, after a spiritual battle, I said: “Yes — but I want to be ordained in the Anglican Church.”

John Wilson

I wanted to change the trajectory of this Church, but what I’ve learnt since is that, as a priest or pastor, you’re called to be a “curate” in the old sense: to have the care of souls; and to love a congregation is to lead them in a way that’s best for them, not what is best for me. That was a very important lesson.

My DDO had long wanted ordinands [from the Continent] to spend time in England, to internalise the Englishness of the Anglican Church, and I became his guinea pig. I spent two terms in Cambridge, training with ERMC [Eastern Ministry Training Course] but doing coursework at Ridley Hall, and living at Westcott House [with my family]. I hadn’t realised how stark the contrast is between the different wings of the Church, and I hadn’t a clue about the subtle differences between them. It helped me to understand and build relationships with both, and I’m greatly thankful for that.

I then went on my own to Rome, for an ecumenical placement at the Pontifical Beda College, right next to St Paul’s Basilica. On the drive down from Budapest, I feared it might be a terrible mistake, but it proved to be a great gift. It gave me an insight into the Roman Catholic Church I would never have had otherwise: for example, I’d never reflected on how profoundly celibacy impacts other areas of life.

The experience reinforced my Anglican identity, ironically. It also reshaped my spirituality in some ways. We don’t often, as we get older, have a chance to step back completely, restructure our days and weeks, work out a new rhythm. I really loved doing the Daily Office.

A Jesuit priest heard my confession, and it was an incredibly powerful experience. I knew theologically that God had forgiven me for my failings, but to have the priest pronounce absolution for me — it’s difficult to put into words, but I just felt clean in a way that I didn’t want to mess up.

I’m going to write a dissertation on the sacrament of confession and penance. It’s something I want to explore further.

Rob Hawkins is doing a Common Awards postgraduate certificate in theology, ministry and mission at Westcott House, having completed the tripos in theology, religion and philosophy of religion there

I DIDN’T grow up in a churchgoing family, but I sang in a church choir in my teens, and I was swept up by the music, the poetry, the liturgy, and the story. It fascinated me, but at the same time provoked me. I was a vocal atheist then, but I was definitely interested. I carried on singing in chapel at university, and the interest deepened.

Rob Hawkins

I was struck by the faith of some priests and chaplains in particular — they seemed to be people of such honesty, integrity, and depth, and yet they were signed up to these mind-bending creeds. I couldn’t understand how it cohered for them, but I think I already knew I would like that to be me. If anything, I had a sense of vocation before I knew whether I could be a Christian.

My studies in art history began to gravitate towards theology, because I was so fascinated by it. The art I prefer is modern, but I chose to study medieval French sculpture, because I wanted to understand how these churchmen could honestly subscribe to this faith. That was a big turning point, really. I read a whole load of 13th-century Scholastics, and where I had expected to find naïve credulity or fundamentalism, I found breathtaking intellectual rigour.

I understood for the first time that faith did not claim God as simply one more thing, but as the ground of all things. Faith was not incompatible with the most searching thinking; it merely went beyond it. As Coleridge said: “Religion passes out of the ken of Reason only where the eye of Reason has reached its own horizon.” I realised that this was something you could bring your head to, as well as your heart. At this time, I was reading voraciously: Rowan Williams, mainly, but many others.

The big step, in terms of testing my sense of vocation, was when, in 2018, I became a volunteer hospital chaplain alongside my doctoral study. Inhabiting that role made sense in an uncomplicated way. I stopped wondering about what I ought to be doing in life, and just felt that I was doing it.

I’d never wanted faith to be a kind of escapism; I think I needed to see that it actually could speak into the really dark places of life. When I found out that it could, I decided to go for it.

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